by Assaf Meydani. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 224pp. Hardcover $94.00. ISBN: 9781107012622. eBook $75.00. ISBN: 9781139102421.

Reviewed by Michael P. Fix, Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. Email: mfix [at]


Much of the research on the interaction between national high courts and the broader political system tends to possess a unidirectional focus, looking either at the impact of the court and its decisions on political actors and institutions or the impact that those actors and institutions have on the decision making of the court. In The Israeli Supreme Court and the Human Rights Revolution: Courts as Agenda Setter, Assaf Meydani takes a more holistic view, looking at how the expanded role of the Israeli High Court of Justice evolved from the dynamic interaction between multiple players in the Israeli political environment in combination with certain key features of that nation's political culture.

Professor Meydani draws on a rich array of theories from legal studies, sociology, political science, and policy science to develop a dynamic model of the High Court's role in the Israeli political system. Drawing heavily from research on policy entrepreneurship and the concept of shared mental models, he casts the High Court as a policy entrepreneur able to serve "as the shaper of the value of human rights" (p.2). He holds that the court is able to take on this role due to the non-governability that defines the political system in combination with the heavy reliance by the mass public on an alternative political culture. To test his theoretical model, Meydani utilizes a multi-method research design that employs quantitative empirical analysis to examine broad trends in the High Court's treatment of petitions against the government, in combination with qualitative case studies, to analyze the key theoretical processes at a deeper, more nuanced level.

In many ways this model is simultaneously one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the book. In developing this model, great attention is paid to the unique aspects of the Israeli political system that allowed the High Court's role to develop. This produces a comprehensive explanation of the role that the High Court of Justice has taken in the expansion of human rights in the Israeli political system through its ability to act as an agenda setter in the area of human rights. Moreover, the detailed background information provided on both the High Court and the Israeli political system in general provide an invaluable resource for readers with a limited familiarity with Israeli law and politics, increasing the book's broad appeal to scholars of law or judicial politics regardless of their geographic area of specialization.

However, with this high level of contextual specificity, the generalizability of the theoretical model [*537] is necessarily limited to some degree. While Meydani discusses the applicability of some aspects of his model to similar national high courts, the full model seems fundamentally tied to the specific combination of features present in the interaction between the Israeli High Court of Justice and the broader Israeli political environment. This should not detract from the contribution this book makes to the scholarship on the role of national high courts in "rights revolutions" (Epp 1998) or the growing trend toward a "judicialization of politics" (Tate and Vallinder 1995), but is merely a question of how applicable theoretical contributions made in this book will be to the study of these phenomena in other countries and contexts.

After introducing his basic theoretical argument and presenting the layout of the book, Meydani presents his primary quantitative analysis in Chapter 2. Drawing on multiple sources, Meydani compiles a comprehensive data set of High Court petitions against the government filed between 2000 and 2006. While the data analysis is largely descriptive, it sets up the more detailed qualitative analyses presented in the later chapters quite well by providing a somewhat contradictory and paradoxical set of findings with respect to the High Court's role.

Chapter 3 presents an overview of various theoretical approaches to the study of law and politics from a variety of academic disciplines. Chapter 4 focuses on two of these theoretical approaches in greater depth: shared mental models and policy entrepreneurship. It then proceeds, drawing heavily on these theories, to develop the book's central model, presenting the High Court as a policy entrepreneur.

The next three chapters begin the primary analysis. Chapters 5 and 6 present the key institutional and cultural features of the Israeli political system central to the theoretical argument. Of specific importance is the focus on how the continued non-governability problem in the central political institutions leads to the development of strong reliance by the mass public on an alternative political culture that includes the use of private mechanisms to solve public matters not being addressed by the government and an increased use of the courts. Chapter 7 then adds the High Court into the dynamic, looking at how these social, political, and cultural factors changed over the 1948-1999 time period, allowing the court's role to evolve into that of a viable player in the political system.

Chapter 8 looks at the failed battle by certain groups in the political system to create a new Constitutional Court to take power away from the High Court of Justice in response to the growth in its power over the previous time periods. Chapters 9 and 10 then analyze the development of the High Court and the political system during the 1999-2007 time period. Chapter 9 focuses on the broader conditions that led to the development of an equilibrium between the court and political actors, while Chapter 10 provides a detailed case study analysis of three High Court cases in line with the theoretical model developed in earlier chapters.

Chapter 11 focuses on the relationship between the High Court and the broader [*538] political environment with specific attention paid to the court-Knesset relationship and the need for sweeping political and legal reforms. Finally, Chapter 12 provides a conclusion and a discussion of the implications of the study.

On balance, The Israeli Supreme Court and the Human Rights Revolution: Courts as Agenda Setter makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the evolution of the role of the Israeli High Court of Justice into that of a major player in the country's political environment with respect to human rights policy. Moreover, despite some questions of generalizabilty, it adds to our overall understanding of the role of supreme courts in the expansion of human rights globally. The theoretical innovations, adept use of a multi-method research strategy, and interdisciplinary approach to the topic make this book of value to scholars in political science, law, sociology, and other academic fields with interest in the dynamic relationships between legal and political institutions and the impact of these relationships on substantive public policy.


Epp, Charles R. 1998. The Rights Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tate, C. Neal, and Torbjorn Vallinder, eds. 1995. The Global Expansion of Judicial Power. New York: New York University Press.

Copyright 2012 by the Author, Michael P. Fix.